What’s left of Mahatma Gandhi?

Ritu Jha-

Gandhi was not my mentor, he did not have nearly enough time to mentor me, but I was always near him and was inspired by his courage, his thoughtfulness toward others and his friendship even with those who were hostile to him, said Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi.

Rajmohan Gandhi, historian, biographer, journalist, occasional politician and peacemaker, was speaking at The Martin Luther King, Jr, Research and Education Institute at Stanford University as part of the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth by presenting an international Gandhi-King conference from Friday, Oct 11, to Sunday, Oct 13.

Rajmohan Gandhi was part of a panel that discussed ‘What’s left of Gandhi’. The panel, moderated by Jisha Menon, Center for South Asia.  director, also included Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi and a peace activist and former member of South Africa’s Parliament, and Aishwary Kumar, professor of political theory and intellectual history at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Rajmohan Gandhi in a brief interview told indica, “In today’s world of great danger and unhappiness and great possibility, let us be absolutely faithful to the truth in our own heart.”

“If any generation [or Silicon Valley, which is a privileged part of the world] can be loyal to the truth in our own heart, whether or not that relates to Gandhi, it is what the world needs today.”

Asked whether people in the 21st century still believe in the philosophy of Gandhiji, given all that is going on in the world and in the US and India too, he said, “We are losing our humanity, we are losing our goodness, our decency, our compassion. By the way much that is going on in India is wonderful, but much is not-so-wonderful.”

“So, when so much corrosion takes place, we have to feel unhappy about that and take a stand.”

Ela Gandhi also believes that a lot of what is going on in India is not wonderful. She told indica that people are losing their values. Gandhi had spoken about modernity and modernity has taken over the people’s values while the deeper spiritual human being has been lost.

Pointing to the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution which conferred special status on Jammu & Kashmir, she said, “The way it was done, the method, is wrong. The way they approached it, that method was wrong.”

She said, “He [Mahatma Gandhi] talked about it in Hind Swaraj that this is what can happen if we cannot think carefully about the kind of society we want to work, getting liberation is not the end. It’s what you do with your liberation.”

Responding to Gandhi as a guide and leader, then, is what India is missing today, Ela Gandhi said. “You can’t wait for the leader, you have to take the initiative and each person has the power inside them, you don’t need a leader, you need to get together and you will find a person who could lead that.”

Prof Aishwary Kumar echoed Ela Gandhi on Article 370. “Gandhi and [Dr BR] Ambedkar might have fundamentally opposed each other, but actually they were united about Kashmir, that the Kashmiri people have the undiluted right and only they can decide about Kashmir.”

Asked about the Narendra Modi administration’s emphasis on Swachh Bharat on the one hand but not on religious tolerance,, Prof Aishwary Kumar said religious tolerance is the first principle of caste resistance. “In Hind Swaraj he [Gandhiji] says if you as a Hindu love the cow so much, why don’t you jump in front of a cow when a Muslim is trying to kill it? The Hindu nationalist today has no answer.

“The real issue is not how Hindu nationalists are lynching Muslims because they are alleged to have eaten beef or stored it in their fridge, but why the majority of Indians is willing to walk with that,” the professor said. “Why are we incapable of offering any solution other than moral outreach?

“If you look at the Hindus for Trump group, the idea that we are democrats here [in the US] and casteist there [in India], the moral inconsistency was what Gandhi despised and resisted.” This abhorrence of moral inconsistency is partly why we have found it easier to ignore Gandhi rather than follow his insights, the professor explained.

He said Gandhi was also a very tactical and strategic political thinker, and so people start to approach him as that. There was no problem to which Gandhiji did not have some insight.

However, Prof Aishwary Kumar also said the other reason for our large-scale disappointment with Gandhi is because we think he does not have any solution to today’s problems. “It is possible no single human being has a solution to every single human problem,” he said.

Prof Menon told indica, “We all need to cultivate ways of thinking how to be ethical in the world and I think we are increasingly losing that. As professors we want students to think about what constitutes justice and be inspired to be a better human being and these are lessons Gandhi can teach and they are very valuable for students.”

Menon told indica on the sidelines of the conference that what inspires him is Gandhiji’s willingness to forgive his enemies and his commitment to his deeper convictions.